2011 has yielded a larger, more normal harvest and a set of wines which will not fail to please. In point of fact they are closer in style to 2006 than 2008, having more energy and equilibrium than the latter. Stéphane Ogier describes the vintage as ‘gourmande’, ‘digeste’ and ‘séduisant’.
Vintage Assessment Northern Rhône
Michel Chapoutier is not alone in detecting similarities between 2011 and 1991. Both followed a brace of superlative vintages and both had rather uneven growing seasons, unusual even. Indeed 1991 took rather a long time to achieve its due recognition; hopefully the same will not apply to 2011, for all the sound and fury associated with its immediate forebears.
The vintage, in a nutshell, was hot, then cold, then hot again, a meteorological sandwich which defied normal weather patterns to the point of near inversion. Temperatures normally associated with July were experienced in both March and September, and vice versa. The early and admittedly highly satisfactory flowering presaged predictions of a very early harvest and ignited concern about an inherent imbalance between polyphenolic and physiological ripeness, but no sooner had the lacklustre mid-summer dispelled this fear, than anxiety focused on the dangers of rot, mildew (oidium) and other such disagreeable phenomena.
So there was triage and so there were treatments and then, recalling 2002 perhaps, there was abundant rainfall in the first week of September – abundant, but not torrential, and not especially long in duration. Thereafter followed a long anti-cyclonic period and the warm weather described above. It was warm enough, certainly, to exile any vestigial threats of disease and to ensure that the grapes ripened properly. It was ripe, certainly, but not too ripe; the cooler midsummer nights have added definition and pleasing freshness to the white wines.
Harvest dates were generally fairly ‘normal’, if such a word still has currency, and most of the fruit had been successfully picked by the end of the second week of September. Careful selection was required to undermine the vagaries of the uneven ripening, but the final crop was of a respectable size and the resultant grape juice achieved impressive analytical levels, careless of the season’s challenges.
Vintage Assessment Southern Rhône
The South does not recall 1991 with quite as much nostalgia as the North, so we shall restrict anecdotal comparisons to more recent vintages, although no-one seemed to agree on a specific vintage to highlight. The most nominated candidates were, in order: 2006, 1999, 2001 and 2004. To complicate the issue yet further, for Vincent Avril the wines have the tannins of the rather plush 2009 and the elegance of the underrated 2008 – therefore the best features of both.
Comparisons are perhaps odious after all, especially after such a heterogeneous and unpredictable season. Following pretty much the same weather patterns as further up-stream, 2011 started with a very hot and dry spring (the subsequent rainfall in July entirely beneficial) with any potential damage immediately banished by the Mistral wind.
It was only hereafter, when one has every right to expect decent weather, that things became more complicated. Indeed, it was the combination of further uninspiring conditions at the beginning of August and exceptionally warm conditions towards the end of that month, which engendered confusion and resulted in a rather uneven ripening. The late-season grapes such as Mourvèdre and Counoise tended to out-perform the earlier ripening varieties such as Syrah and Cinsault (some of which were shocked into a shut-down phase when the unexpected heat returned and did not have sufficient time to recover properly).
Grenache, after the blight of coulure in 2010, fared well. As a result, it makes up a larger percentage of the blends once again, triggering, as always, the seemingly circular debates about excessive alcohol levels and over-ripe wines. One cannot have it both ways; these wines have delightful, charming, sweet fruit and supple, approachable tannins. More quantity, less tannin; more approachable, less alcohol. These wines may be less immediately seductive to those for whom concentration is all but are certainly more attractive for the rest of us. In short, they are a pure delight.
Simon Field MW, Rhône Buyer